I love visiting museums, which is how I spent my limited days in Amsterdam. I remember ‘dam being incredibly cold when I was there in May ’19! And expensive… especially when you’re not working and have landed up in Europe on a shoestring budget :). I remember drinking a lot of coffee from Albert Hijn chains with a dribbling nose, so I could spend the precious euros on entry tickets.
Museums in the west have beautifully curated exhibitions and it is just so incredible how they have managed to preserve their history and monetise it at the same time. It speaks so much about a culture of preservation and understanding. On the other hand, in the south Asian countries where I am from, museums have become state-funded dustballs, with unimaginative curation that fail to excite most visitors. All the beautiful work we have, and the decrepit ruin we consign it to. Perhaps, fitting for a fatalistic culture that generally prevails the sub-continent.
I visited the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh and even the Moco all within two days. This is possible because all three are in a tight area called Museumplein. The only one that I missed, and maybe I should have visited was the Stedelijk Museum, which in retrospect was probably a better museum for contemporary art than the Moco.
The Moco is a small museum for Modern Art, but this was the most disappointing one. The one that pointed at how all that is packaged well is not necessarily good! The key attraction here is Bansky and other street artists, but most of the his work are prints of the original.
It was a bit like walking through the collection of someone who had printed all the images of Bansky that all of us have seen. There was a small exhibition on Yayoi Kusama, but again it was more of an homage to the artist. At 11-12 Euros I thought this was a bit of a tourist trap. Ironic that it had to be Bansky.
The Van Gogh museum was interesting mainly because I never knew that all the preservation and later curation of his work was largely done by his widowed sister-in-law. It made me wonder, how many Van Goghs we must be losing because no-one recognises the value of their fevered brains; all those mad correspondences, their ceaseless output all poured out and lost. Again, I will have to counter-balance this with the idea of impermanence, a deeply eastern philosophy which now I realise probably came from the impossibility of preserving anything!
The Rijksmuseum ofcourse has to be visited. It is a grand entry into a history of a country that I had very little idea of, despite its disproportionate influence on a world far beyond its borders. What the English was to the parts of the world where I come from, the Dutch was to large and fertile islands in the east.
I was also able to relate this to the online course I took on sustainability by Dr Jeffrey Sachs. The Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company were the beginnings of a capitalist history, the consequence of which all of us have been living through. When I think of the scale and momentum of impact that these ships from the cold ports of the Amstel & Thames river made, I am dumbstruck by a deep sense of an immense and shared human history.
The Rijksmuseum also houses Rembrandt’s famous work, the Night Watch. It is truly quite splendid when you walk into a large hall, and yet this large painting dominates the scene with its wide wall to wall canvas and a glorious illumination that seems to come from within the painting.
Lastly, what you simply must not miss, is a quiet moment at the Memorial to the Women of Ravensbruck. This is a steel column structure on the bottom right of the Museumplein, as you face Rijksmuseum. It looks like a column of non-descript steel facades until you get closer and you start hearing a periodic rumble and strange flashing of light coming from a steel column. It forces you to walk towards it, and start trying to figure out what it could be. A quiet and gradually disturbing reminder of the victims of the holocaust, this memorial specifically remembers the women who died at Ravensbruck camp (Germany). The sounds you hear begin to remind you of the cries of women in the camps and the flickering white light goes up and down vertically like the millions of lost lives. Deeply moving. If ever I am in Amsterdam again, I must put a flower there. We must always remember the ones who died against fascism and similar brutalities.